Lukewarm
65%Overall Score

Bhumika Pardeshi or Bhumi (Aaditi Pohankar) is an ordinary constable with the Mumbai police. Her life changes when she is handpicked to go undercover as a prostitute in an operation to bust a drug ring. She is the story of a timid woman who discovers her sexuality in the course of a covert operation to bring down some of the most dangerous drug kingpins in the city.

Creator: Imtiaz Ali
Director: Arif Ali, Avinash Das
Cast: Aaditi Pohankar, Vijay Varma, Vishwas Kini, Suhita Thatte, Shivani Rangole
Streaming on: Netflix

Aaditi Pohankar and Vijay Varma steal the show

The series opens in a brothel where Bhumi solicits Sasya (Vijay Varma), an important member in Mumbai’s drug cartel. We rewind to three days earlier, when she’s summoned by Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini), an inspector at the crime branch, and told that she must go undercover as a sex worker for an important operation. Bhumi is an ordinary middle-class woman who lives in a chawl and works as a constable. Besides maintaining the station register and balancing accounts, she hasn’t done anything of note in the police force. She now finds herself being thrown in the deep end, where she must face some rather dangerous criminals.

The scene in the brothel and Sasya’s subsequent capture are compelling, as is the equation that emerges between Bhumi and Sasya. This is the kernel of the show. During his interrogation, Sasya promises to reveal everything, under the condition that Bhumi asks him the questions. He senses that in their earlier encounter Bhumi had experienced unfamiliar feelings and he tries to leverage her state of mind. Vijay Varma turns out a tremendous performance as the lecherous Sasya, whose feelings for Bhumi range from lust to awe to obsession.

Bhumi’s transformation from plain Jane to femme fatale plays out brilliantly. Pohankar shifts effortlessly between the roles. What makes the transition seem real is that she leaves some elements of her character intact. The appearance and mannerisms change, but the Maharashtrian accent remains. Bhumi is by nature timid and reticent, and till the end remains uncomfortable about the job she’s being asked to do. She is at her best when she is conflicted. When Sasya flirts with her in the interrogation room, she’s visibly unnerved. However it isn’t Sasya that she finds scary but the effect his unsavoury attention has on her.

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The plot fizzles out after a promising start

The tension between Bhumi and Sasya is one of the few delicious things about She. On the whole, the narrative is rushed and simplistic. The police seems to hit a home run with every lead they chase. And it’s convenient that all the big guys in the drug cartel seem to have the same weakness, prostitutes.

The story is told using one too many unnecessary flashbacks, an overcompensation for what is pretty much a linear narrative. The makers don’t bother to delve much into why Bhumi, who appears to be an unremarkable individual at the onset and is dubbed an “average performer”, is personally chosen by Fernandez for such a sensitive mission. All we get is Fernandez repeating multiple times how he once spotted her at a roadblock and just knew she was special. Vishwas Kini doesn’t make a convincing, tough-as-nails cop. In fact, Kini is more at ease when he is showing some emotion.

Yet the show has a few fine moments

She‘s finer moments have to do with Bhumi’s transformation. The most powerful scene of the show features Bhumi and a waiter at an empty restaurant. It’s here that Bhumi realises the power she wields. She can bend any man with her sexuality. Her family life reveals her complicated attitude to sexuality. She secretly envies her more attractive and promiscuous sister (Shivani Rangole). She’s estranged from Lokhande (Sandeep Dhabale), her husband; their marriage was bereft of intimacy. The repulsive Lokhande routinely harasses Bhumi for not fulfilling his sexual desires, and unabashedly leers at her younger sister. Alarmingly, Bhumi’s mother (Suhita Thatte) turns a blind eye towards his behaviour. He is still welcome into their home.

She must deal with workplace sexism too. Bhumi’s fellow constable Mhatre (Ajay Jadhav) proclaims that the police force is no place for a woman. Mhatre is shown to be well-meaning and looks out for Bhumi like an older brother. But in the process he displays the casual sexism prevalent among the most enlightened folk. On an occasion when Bhumi is attractively dressed, he treats her with uncharacteristic chivalry. But when she has to loiter the streets wearing skimpy clothes as part of the operation, he isn’t thrilled.

THE UPSHOT
Aaditi Pohankar and Vijay Varma pack powerful performances in this cop drama that’s let down by an uninspiring story.